Over the Thanksgiving holiday, someone in my extended family will no doubt mention President Trump. There will be an awkward pause … and then we’ll all agree that he’s terrible.
That isn’t the story you usually hear when you sit down to read a “holiday politics” piece. The genre thrives on an assumption of generational conflict. Thanksgiving in the land of Slate and Mic and countless other publications is a day when you go home, eat turkey and try to convince your dad that black people are human beings before the pumpkin pie is served. Google “how to talk about Trump with your family” and you’ll find dozens upon dozens of articles purporting to help you through this difficult process.
Back here in the real world, people often share their relatives’ political beliefs. I come from a Jewish family, and Jews voted against Trump 70% to 25%. Similarly, if you’re not white, and your family isn’t white, odds are you’re all agreed that the last year has been a political disaster.
The Thanksgiving-conflict story is simply another example of media fascination with Trump voters. It’s another way of heaping attention on the minority of people in this country who supported the president in the election last November and still adore him.
If you need to talk to Trump voters this holiday season, or want to show them the error of their ways, godspeed.
It’s also indicative of the media’s persistent fantasy that Trump voters are just one transformative dialogue away from conversion. As anyone who’s ever been on the internet knows, though, people rarely argue with an open mind. They argue to troll, vent or rally the likeminded. Trump voters aren’t looking to be converted, and aren’t likely to be.
Anyway, it’s absurd to give one-size-fits-all advice. Different families are different. And yet the Trump Thanksgiving articles have a formula. Typically they’re addressed to young people headed back home for family dinners with older relatives who voted for Trump. Trump voters are scared of change, the pieces claim. They don’t know many people who look different. Talk to them about your friends. Empathize with their confusion. Trash Hillary Clinton together! They love you. They’ll listen to you.
That’s not how things work, in my experience at least. Older generations are unlikely to take their children’s arguments seriously. I agree with my father on most issues, including Trump, but talking to him about politics remains an exercise in frustration, because he still treats my opinions with the same respect he accorded them when I was 5. (Side note to Dad: Nancy Pelosi is not a drag on Democratic fortunes. Most people don’t even know who she is, for pity’s sake.)
Family relationships are often fraught and complicated. You certainly have a better sense of how to approach your mom about politics, or whether to do so, than does the writer of some random think piece.
Can you change the world one forkful of mashed potatoes at a time?
I don’t think so. You’re not going to swing the country away from bigotry by finding the perfect argument to stump your Uncle Bob. If Uncle Bob wasn’t stumped by the “Access Hollywood” video, he’s a lost cause. Calling your senator, or even urging folks to donate to good candidates on social media, will almost certainly prove more effective than any political conversation with a committed Trump voter.
And yes, that means that going home to relatives you agree with is likely to be more politically productive, in every sense, than dealing with relatives you don’t. My mom’s been calling her senator, Marco Rubio, every day since the election to push him on policies such as healthcare and immigration. I mentioned some issues for her to put into rotation. I’m not sure he listens to those calls. But probably they’re more useful than yelling at a Trump voter just because said Trump voter happens to be related to you.
White people gathered around a table is the iconic image of Americanness. Trump’s election, accomplished mostly by white people, hovers over that table like a bloated orange specter. Something terrible has happened to our family rituals, the think pieces say, and here is advice on how to fix it. But no one turns racist overnight. Our white ancestors were already spewing racist bilge way back when they started giving thanks for having plundered Native American land.
If you need to talk to Trump voters this holiday season, or want to show them the error of their ways, godspeed. But there’s no reason to think Trump voters are suddenly going to save us from Trump. If we want a better country, maybe we should ignore angry Uncle Bob, who’s trying to tear everything down, and praise righteous Aunt Jane, who’s actively trying to put things back together again. At least on Thanksgiving.
Noah Berlatsky is the author, most recently, of “Nazi Dreams: Films About Fascism.”